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Eye To Eye With Willie Jackson, TV1, Sat 0930am

Eye to Eye with Willie Jackson, TV1, Saturday 0930am

"Maori are dreaming if they think they will own all the plants, trees and bugs in New Zealand", says Owen McShane from the Centre for Resource Management Studies.

The Intellectual Property Rights Claim for Flora and Fauna, dubbed Wai 262, is undoubtedly one of the most controversial Waitangi Claims.

Maori are claiming ownership of native plants, trees and bugs and what they deem to be 'taonga' or cultural icons of significance to them including traditional knowledge.

Lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal 16yrs ago, closing submissions were held this week. But Owen McShane says the claim is flawed.

"There would be a lashback ... if there is anybody in Maoridom who thinks they can lay claim to all the living species in NZ and somehow exercise the rights that go with ownership in a meaningful way - well then it would be an empty nation," he said.

This week on Eye to Eye with Willie Jackson, indigenous rights expert Aroha Mead will defend the integrity of the claim and says people like McShane are misleading the public.

"The claimants are not claiming all trees, all plants, all bugs; they are claiming indigenous flora and fauna that we have a special proven relationship with. Special species which iwi would classify in cultural traditions as being Taonga to them - so it isn't everything in NZ that's being claimed although that's how many portray it, its really much more specific than that," she says.

McShane says the idea of Maori control of flora and fauna is preposterous.

"The idea that a Maori tribal authority controls my artistic integrity? - Or trees and plants? Being told what to do? ...I don't want someone else to say you have to keep that a secret or you must not do this...

There would be a lash back. If there is anybody in Maoridom who thinks they can lay claim to all the living species in NZ and somehow exercise the rights that go with ownership in a meaningful way - well then it would be an empty nation." Says McShane

Also on the programme this week is Intellectual Property Rights law specialist Linda Robinson. Robinson says a fundamental flaw of Wai 262 is that it seeks to prevent freedom of expression.

"I don't think groups should own language per se. Te Reo is precious here because it's the language of the indigenous people and it was almost lost. It doesn't make it more important compared to those who seek German and English perhaps. There's nothing sacred about the Maori language ... should Maori be the only ones to use Maori words? I say no. In that sense the language is in the public domain," she says.

Willie Te Aho, CEO of Indigenous Corporate Solutions, also a guest this week, says the claim provides opportunities for Maori.

"If it's Maori then you've got to acknowledge Maori ownership. But ownership isn't enough for Maori - you need the expertise to exploit the ownership. Many of our resources are now underutilized - so it's not just about ownership. There will eventually be a merging of western property rights and uniquely kiwi solutions which will start with the Waitangi Tribunal decision and flow in to legislation like fisheries," he says.

But McShane is concerned about how government will respond to this claim.

"I don't know that you really want if you give that sort of power to the state, you open up enormous powers of censorship and that will backfire. If you have a strong culture then you should be able to enjoy other people using it. Look at Eric Clapton, blacks don't give him grief and he sings their songs, in their style," he says.

Mead says the claim does not mean that Maori culture will become exclusive to Maori.

"There's nothing to suggest that if Maori own their own culture that they are going to shut it down and no one else is going to use it. If we know anything about Maori people it's that we have very diverse values, we are very active in the academic world and the commercial world, we are entrepreneurs, and in fact we lead the way in some statistics. So there are no signals that I can see that would ever make the fear that some people have that Maori are going to shut everything down a realistic fear, I think it's just panic and misplaced," she says.

Robinson says Maori owning flora and fauna in New Zealand will never happen.

"One of the important questions is ideas of access and benefit sharing and access to knowledge and arrangements around sharing benefits. Who do you pay for this knowledge? You can't tell me a government in the future is going to say Maori are going to own all the animals and plants in NZ, the government will decide what they will," she says.

Meanwhile Te Aho says the Wai 262 Claim can only benefit New Zealand. He believes it's a chance for New Zealand to set an example internationally.

"Pakeha are not homogenous. Some Pakeha have supported, will support and some will oppose. This is about looking at what is good for our country and what is good for our country is finding a way forward that shows unique leadership to the world," he says.

Eye to Eye with Willie Jackson is the highest rating Maori programme screening on TVNZ.

Watch the show this Saturday, 9.30am, TVOne.


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